Wednesday, May 23, 2007
The first couple of years at Yanks Abroad, picking the player of the year was easier than voting in Florida.

In the 2004/05 season, DaMarcus Beasley led PSV Eindhoven in Champions League goals, helped them to a semifinal finish against AC Milan and ended as PSV's third leading goal scorer with 12 across all competitions.

My choice last year was just as clear cut - Jay DeMerit at Watford. Not only had the defender completed an improbable rise from the depths of English amateur soccer to a starting spot on a Championship team contending for promotion, he came up huge in the final win that would see them there, earning man of the match honors in the process.

But this time, every time I try to think the standout player from this seas-z-z-z-z-z-z ...

That's not really far off from how I've felt each time I've sat down to write about the POY. Three times now and it's the same darned thing; I start nodding off. I feel like I'm sitting in film class from high school with the teacher trying to show all these movies that were really good, back when movies were supposed to be good.

Let's face it, I'm not far off the mark. Perry Farrell would probably refer to it as Snoozapalooza.

When we sit down with our grandkids, who are we going to think of when we think back to the 2006/07 season? Clint Dempsey because he scored a goal? Tim Howard because he's seemingly becoming more confident in goal, or Marcus Hahnemann because he's still as rock solid as he always was?

I think 2006/07 will be remembered for all of the setbacks YAs had to endure: Conor Casey finally gave up on the European experiment when just two years ago he was Mainz' record transfer.

Bobby Convey was forced to sit out almost the entire season with an injury he picked up in Germany, while Eddie Lewis still couldn't buy a break, unable to prevent Leeds United from being relegated for the second time in four years, reaching their lowest point yet in their long history.

More that anything though, this season will be remembered for the Taming of the Gooch. Unlike Petruchio however, there is no second dowry for Oguchi Onyewu, thought to be the United States' most valuable defender. His time at St. James' Park came to an abrupt end with no second act in store.

Instead of focusing on the standout performances, I've decided to be grateful for small mercies. Though this season may at first glance appear to be the proverbial 'one step up, two steps back', there are some things that we can look back on with heads held high.

Before I tackle the candidates that I think are most deserving of my coveted Player of the Year distinction (and when I say 'coveted' I mean 'not really'), let's look at a few guys who might not have had standout years in the traditional sense, but have done enough to warrant mention:

Jeremiah White

The speedster from Philadelphia earns first mention here for the way he started the year off - with a bang. His hat trick versus Montpellier gave FC Gueugnon an opening day win, though it never did anything to endear him to coach Victor Zvunka, whose difficulties with African and Muslim players has been the subject of at least one France Football article this year.

Though White was far from his French club's minute leader when he left, he still finished the year tied at fourth for most goals, to go along with four assists, despite leaving at midseason.

Hooking up with AGF Aarhus of the Danish first division, White has been unable to keep up his goalscoring pace, but has won many admirers at Denmark's most wildly supported club outside of Copenhagen.

Kamani Hill

This California native was on no one's radar coming into the season, and finished as a regular substitute for Vfl Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga. He never managed to find the back of the net but appeared in nine matches and was a gameday substitute in all but two during the second half of the season.

The man who brought him into the club, Klaus Augenthaler, has since been shown the door and Wolfsburg narrowly escaped relegation, but next year remains wide open for Hill and he figures to be at the top of the "ones to watch" list.

Gabriel Ferrari

Being an 18-year old American and dressing for the Sampdoria's first team for most of the second half of the season is nothing that should be taken for granted. Though the New Yorker only made one appearance, and that was in a cup game, he did manage to catch the eye of Under 20 coach Thomas Rongen who invited him to play with his team just last month.

Ferrari's impressive performance in Texas with the U.S. hopefuls might never have happened had he not impressed the Sampdoria higher-ups enough to give him a shot, and he's told us here at YA that he has no plans to pull a Rossi.

Benny Feilhaber

If Feilhaber had been able to hold on to his first team position for the entire year, my POY would have once again been a slam dunk. Instead, the UCLA product has one heck of a learning experience under his belt, and finds himself just outside of the top five.

If "trial by fire" has never applied before, it would certainly here. Feilhaber made his Champions League debut just two weeks after making his Bundesliga debut, and his greenness showed. He still made three appearances in Hamburg's failed Europe campaign including one start, and finished with six starts and nine appearnces in Bundesliga action.

When Hamburg fired head man Thomas Doll and replaced him with Dutchman Huub Stevens, Feilhaber lost the spot on the first team that he had held since mid-October and finished the year out in the Regionalliga.

Of course, Feilhaber didn't just crack the Hamburg first eleven, he made waves with the US as well, and after a couple of friendlies, most notably versus Ecuador, the midfielder had people sitting up and taking notice.

With those guys out of the way, I've narrowed my list down to my top six. At first I was going to go with my top five, but everyone's got a top five so I started thinking that a "Top 6" was kinda money...

When we look back on the 2006/07 year, who is the YA that we are going to identify the most with? Who put his stamp on the year? While I have no doubt that my list will be decried, I'm sure that most of the complaints will come from those who have mistaken this for "Player of the Year - in England" designation.

Most of our best players in Europe are in England, and though they are the most visible, they are not all of our players. Without further ado...

6. Danny Califf

Califf has developed into one of the most reliable centerbacks in the Danish Superliga and is a sure candidate for his team's MVP award. With two games remaining, Aalborg have a real chance to capture the league's third and final UEFA Cup spot for next year, and Califf's play along the backline has earned him accolades all year long with both supporters and foes alike.

Aalborg also have their first chance at the league's silver prize since 1999 and only their fourth medal in history.

Newly annointed head coach Bob Bradley recently made the trip to Denmark to see Califf, as well as Heath Pearce play, in preparation for this summer's tournaments in the United States and Venezuela. It has been sometime since Califf has been a regular with the USMNT; his time in Denmark will only help him.

5. Tim Howard

A polarizing player if there ever was one here at YA, and rightly so. Ever since he donned the red jersey of Manchester United, no one has ever really been sure if Tim Howard the commander of the box, or Tim Bobblehands was going to show up.

A single play versus Porto in the Champions League in 2004 cemented his fate at Manchester United, and he had a couple of similar gaffes this year with the Toffees. Most notably his attempted slide stop versus Aston Villa last month that looked more like an attempt at hooking third base than it did trying to make a save.

Nevertheless, Howard still fell one short of the Everton team record for shutouts on the season, and anchored a defense that finished first outside of the big four in goals allowed. Howard moved forward this year in leadership and maturity, and is one of the reasons why Everton will be competing in the UEFA Cup later this year.

4. Brian McBride

Timex, the Engergizer Bunny, the Neverending Story... Whatever symbol of perpetuity you like, fits the Illinois native. For the second year running, and at the tender age of 34, McBride won Player of the Season at Fulham, behind the strength of his hard work, as well as his team leading nine Premiership goals and 12 across all competitions.

The former Crew man and World Cup 2002 hero finds his strength in his consistency and earlier this season, former manager Chris Coleman gushed that McBride was the best 700k he had ever spent on a player.

It's hard to imagine that McBride may be a better player now than he was when he joined the club in January 2004, but it seems to be the case.

3. Frank Simek

The 2006/07 season may eventually be remembered as the year that Simek put himself on the map. Simek was voted Player of the Year by fan polls in two Sheffield newspapers, in addition to making his US debut.

Following his call up in for the March friendlies versus Ecuador and Guatemala, Owls coach Brian Laws had nothing but praise for his right back, speaking especially on that which has endeared him to Wednesday fans, his tough tackling and consistency on the backline.

The right back ironically received his first ever straight red in his very next game after the news of his call up and sat out the following three games, which would be the only matches he would miss all season, giving him the most starts for the John Harkes' old team.

Simek's future with Wednesday is all of the sudden unclear thanks to his stellar season long performance coupled with his national team call. There has been interest from Premiership clubs Aston Villa and Portsmouth, and it's no question that the possible first choice right back in South Africa deserves a crack - and would most certainly jump at the chance - at the top division.

2. Steve Cherundolo

A shaky start to the Bundesliga campaign had people once again questioning Cherundolo's competence, but his struggles were short lived and he once again emerged to be one of Hannover's most dependable players.

The San Diego native has been with Hannover since 1999, and was an integral part of their 2001/02 season which saw the Reds promoted to the top flight, and Cherundolo voted one of the top five defenders in the league by Kicker magazine.

The right back's loyalty to the north German club has paid off with his being named vice-captain as well as attaining a fan admiration not usually bestowed upon foreigners. Hannover just missed out on the Intertoto Cup, falling short in their last game of the season, but with players such as Arnold Bruggink, Szabolcz Huszti and Jan Rosenthal, their push next season should be all the stronger.

And the Player of the Year is...

YOU. The YA reader. After almost three years here at YA, we owe every bit...OK, I read the Sports Guy pull that cop-out for his NBA MVP and you won't get the same treatment here. Like when you get to the end of a book or movie and there's a cliffhanger ending that leaves you wondering: "Wait a minute! What happens!?" I bought the book, or paid for the movie ticket - the ending should be included!

In any event, just to preface my choice for player of the year, I'd like to point out that Ryan Giggs (2326 minutes), Andriy Shevchenko (3 trazillion) and Aaron Lennon (wunderkid) all finished off the year with one fewer Premiership goal than...

1. Carlos Bocanegra

'Los seems to have developed into the crafty veteran in the two and a half seasons he has been with Fulham. While some have said that the US defender has been shaky on the backline, it doesn't seem to have been the opinion of either of the two coaches that Fulham has had this year.

Bocanegra has filled in all over the field, including a successful spell at defensive midfield. In perhaps Fulham's finest performance this year, against Manchester United at home, Bocanegra played center back and more than once left Cristiano Ronaldo on the endline doing his best Elmer Fudd expression wondering "which way did he go, which way did he go?"

In spite of his detractors, be they USMNT fans, fans of US Soccer players abroad or just Championship Manager aficionados, the former history major continues to make a story of his own. His performances this season, in whatever role he was called upon, will have surely earned him a starting spot next season in the Premier League.

So, Los is my man of the year for steadfast performances, unexpected goals and improvised talents.

Consistency doesn't earn anyone headlines, but that is how the best Yanks Abroad performed this year.

On reflection, maybe the mercies were not so small after all.